HTC first announced the One X during Mobile World Congress as its brand new flagship smartphone. It offers NVIDIA's latest and greatest quad-core Tegra 3 processor clocked at 1.5GHz, an insanely sharp 720p HD display, 32GB of storage, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and so much more. I've been using the European version of the One X as my primary device for the past several days — is this the dream phone you've been waiting for?
There's so much to love about the One X and it it begins with the phone's hardware design. The One X is built out of polycarbonate plastic, a material that Nokia uses in its Lumia 900 and Lumia 800 devices, which is incredibly scratch resistant and sturdy. I also love the soft-touch back of the phone and how incredibly thin it is. In fact, it measures just 134.8mm x 69.9mm x 8.9mm, despite packing an insane amount of hardware.
The top of the phone is home to a small microSIM tray, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a power button. There's an easy-to-reach volume rocker on the right hand side of the device that works very well, a microUSB charging port on the left, and an 8-megapixel camera and single LED flash on the back of the phone (full tour in the video review above). Much like HTC's EVO devices on Sprint, the camera is flanked by a circular metal orb that is slightly raised, which definitely adds to the One X's overall premium look. Finally, there's a small speaker grill at the bottom of the phone — I found that its placement got in the way when I was holding the phone in landscape mode for gaming and accidentally muffled the volume with my palm while playing GTA III.
There's so much I love about the phone that I can't really choose which feature I liked best, but the display is definitely up there. The One X is equipped with a large (but not overly so) 4.7-inch HD super LCD screen with an incredibly sharp 1280 x 720-pixel resolution. Those added pixels mean text is much sharper on websites, games look clearer and that you can fit more on your screen at once — while browsing the web, for example. There's a small 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera hiding on the top-right of the display, too, and it offers support for 720p video chats. For a full demonstration of video and screen fidelity, head on up to the video review.
As a quick hardware refresher, the phone is powered by NVDIA's Tegra 3 quad-core (Well, technically 5-core) 1.5GHz processor, 1GB of RAM, has 32GB of onboard storage, an 1,800mAh battery, an 8-megapixel camera capable of recording 1080p HD video (to see Jon do his Batman impression during video quality tests, play the video review above) and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera capable of recording 720p video. For the real hardware junkies out there, I put the quad-core NVIDIA processor to the test by running Quadrant and received a score of 4,951, (CF-Bench overall score of 12,947) which was more than twice the score the Galaxy Nexus received and nearly 5x the score that the Samsung Nexus S gets on the same tests. My Quadrant results:
The speed of the One X was particularly noticeable while opening and closing apps (demonstration in the video review) or browsing through the photo gallery. Everything was instantaneous and I didn't see the lag that's all too common with Android devices these days.
The One X is powered by Google's latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich operating system (version 4.0.3, specifically) and also runs HTCs brand new Sense 4.0 Android skin. I typically prefer barebones Android but I love what HTC did with Sense 4.0. For one, HTC teamed up with DropBox to provide 25GB of cloud storage for free for two years. That's amazing, considering the phone already has 32GB of storage on board. HTC also set its focus on its camera software and its audio. The One X supports Beats Audio playback, which clearly enhanced the music I was playing back through Spotify — and that's one new feature right there. Sense 4.0 allows Beats Audio to enhance audio that's not just stored directly on the phone. That means games, movies and third-party apps such as Spotify can also offer a better listening experience.
I'm a huge fan of HTC's "Lock Screen Style" customizations. This let me choose which shortcuts were on the lock screen or what I wanted displayed while the phone was locked. I chose the "Weather" option, which shows a beautiful weather animation with the current temperature as well as highs and lows for the day. Another one can be used to show recent alerts, such as missed calls or text messages, the Photo Album option slowly floats photos from your album across the lock screen, a Friend Stream option floats social network status updates around and a Stocks screen shows how your stock portfolio is performing. There are a few others, too, but I mostly stuck with the Weather option and found it the most impressive and useful of the bunch.
Android 4.0 is a huge step over Android 2.3 Gingerbread. I won't go into too much detail as we've already covered it extensively. I love that Google Talk now supports more than just one account, that I can easily and quickly browse through widgets to add to my homescreen (it looks very similar to Android 3.0 Honeycomb on tablets), and the included support for NFC. Unfortunately, however, Google Wallet didn't work in the United States with my AT&T SIM card, so I couldn't test it.
The One X I tested was an international, un-branded device, so it didn't come with any carrier bloatware. That's amazing, but you can bet carrier partners will probably add a few apps when the phone lands on store shelves.
How could I discuss the One X without going over its gaming performance? The One X offers a quad-core NVIDIA Tegra 3 processor which, in turn, offers 12-cores (GeForce GPU) for gaming. There are noticeable changes in NVIDIA's Tegra Zone games such as Riptide GP, ShadowGun THD and several others. The textures are sharper — no doubt helped by the HD display — and there are added effects. Take Riptide GP, for example, which shows splashes on the home screen when you take your jetski off of a gnarly jump and slam it into the water. It's awesome and definitely adds to the overall gaming experience. I'm so incredibly pumped to see where NVIDIA is taking gaming on mobile devices. These are the type of graphics we saw just a few years ago on PC and console games, although you could argue that the graphics are even better than some consoles on the market today, too.
HTC spent a ton of time working on the camera software for the One X. The camera has its own "ImageSense" engine that's supposed to offer excellent shots every time you snap a photo. It's incredible: I was able to snap photos repeatedly in 0.7-second intervals by simply holding down the shutter button. It only takes 0.2-seconds to auto-focus, too, so I wasn't standing around waiting on the camera to catch up to the action. The ImageSense engine is also smart enough to control the brightness of the phone's LED flash based on the environment you're taking a picture in.
Shooting in 0.7-second intervals (demo in video) is insanely fun. I felt like a spy walking down my street snapping photos of buildings and people so quickly. The shutter button seriously goes into rapid fire mode snapping pictures super quickly — I don't know if I've ever seen a phone take photos so rapidly. It reminded me a bit of the Palm Pre, which was also really fast. (RIP)
There are a ton of fun photo filter options available on the One X, including distortion, vignette, depth of field, dots, mono, country, vintage, vintage warm, vintage cold, grayscale, sepia, negative, solarize, posterize and aqua. I'm a bit weird and actually like using 35mm film and old cameras to tweak the effects of photos, but the One X did a good job applying these fun filters to pictures — and it didn't seem to task the processor much at all.
The 1080p HD video wasn't anything I haven't seen before. It was crisp, don't get me wrong, but it didn't blow me away when I viewed it back on my laptop screen. I also found that there were times when it took more than a few seconds to auto-focus onto another object. In one instance, for example, I was shooting from my fire escape across the street and it didn't auto-focus on the building in front of me for about 5 seconds. I was able to speed it up by tapping the shutter button, however. (To see Jon do his best Batman impression during our video test, check the video review)
Photos looked excellent when I loaded them up full screen on my computer. The sky was crisp against nearby buildings and trees without too much bleeding and the camera maintained its deep blue hue. I could also easily read signs on my street that would look blurry taken on lower-end phones. There was a bit of grain in darker pictures, but overall the phone performed really well in low-light conditions, too. I know HTC is really pushing its ImageSense sensor but when I compared photos with my Galaxy S Note I couldn't find that big of a difference. You might hear otherwise, but I still prefer to carry around my $200 point-and-shoot with xenon flash for better photos all around.
I have just one complaint when it came to call quality on the One X. I felt like I had to really move the phone awkwardly low on my face so that the speaker was in my ear so that I could hear clearly. It's a minor complaint, though, and I understand it's because there's not a ton of space above the screen. Call quality was super clear during all of my phone calls throughout the week and I didn't experience a single dropped call — that's rare for me to report as an AT&T subscriber in New York City.
The speakerphone was really clear during a few test calls. I used it for a lengthier conversation during a conference call and found that I was able to hear the other callers perfectly. I asked how I sounded and was told "You sound fine." The One X can also be set to automatically shoot into speakerphone mode when it's placed on its face, too, which is a useful feature if you're sitting at your desk.
The One X supports WCDMA: 2100/1900/AWS/850 and EDGE: 850/900/1800/1900 bands, which means it only supports AT&T's HSPA + network, no LTE here. AT&T, will however, release a slightly modified Snapdragon S4 (dual-core) version that runs on its LTE network later this year. Unfortunately Tegra 3 does not currently support LTE, hence the chipset change. In any case, data speeds were really solid in New York City. I saw the network cruise as high as 4Mbps for downloads and upload speeds often fell around 1Mbps. Jon, in Southern California, was regularly pulling 7 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up. Obviously those speeds are subjective, but suffice it to say, we didn't miss LTE that much. I also used the One X as a mobile hotspot for about three hours and it worked wonderfully. I found that it was more reliable than another smartphone on Verizon that I was testing, and I didn't lose my connection once during those three hours.
I really, really put the One X through its paces when it came to using it as much as possible during the day. I typically found that the battery was drained by about 3:00pm or 4:00pm, depending on how hard I was pushing it. That includes using it for snapping photos, a couple of hours as a Wi-Fi hotspot, checking email constantly, checking-in on our company chat room, browsing the web and much more. That's not too bad, but I did expect a full day of use given that it packs an 1,800mAh battery.
Jon Rettinger also tested the device and found that he was able to get a 6-hour phone call in before the battery drained, which is pretty solid considering the device had not yet been updated to the newest firmware which improved battery life a bit. Most moderate users should be able to make it through a full work day without an issue, but I'd recommend keeping it plugged in when possible.
The HTC One X is without question the creme de la creme of Android phones right now. It's the phone Android users have been waiting for. There wasn't a single issue that I can think of that disappointed me. From its beautiful industrial design to its super fast processor, the One X should be at the top any smartphone shopper's list when it hits store shelves in early April. We can't wait to check out the variants that land in the U.S. in the coming months, too. If one thing is for certain, HTC has a real winner on its hands. What do you think? Is a One X in your future?
[Jon Rettinger contributed to this review]
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